We all know that Elon Musk is an absolute genius with more incredible ideas than most people can care to remember. In an old interview with Joe Rogan, Musk stated that this was almost like a curse in a sense. He explained that he has so many useful ideas that he often struggles to focus on one project.

It may look like whatever idea Elon Musk implements is going to be a success. He is a successful entrepreneur and innovator. He’s also one of the richest people in the world with a net worth of around 197.4 billion. Actually, he’s still in the top 10 world’s wealthiest people despite last year’s drop in Tesla’s share price.

On the other hand, we also know that the South African entrepreneur has failed on multiple occasions. Many of these failures have involved very controversial circumstances. However, through all the adversity and against all the odds, Elon Musk always seems to come out on top.

For this reason, I wanted to talk about these failures. More specifically, I will illustrate how Musk consistently overcomes the most devastating blows and uses these experiences to take his companies to even greater heights.

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Here are the failures of Elon Musk and how he overcame them:

1. Rejection from Netscape and Ousted at ZIP2

When Musk first started out, he unsuccessfully applied to a number of emerging tech companies including Netscape. In light of these rejections, he founded a searchable business directory called Zip2 which was essentially an online version of a telephone book.

It may seem like a very simple idea now but this was revolutionary at a time when the use of computers was still negligible. Unfortunately, Zip2 struggled in the early years and most investors had no interest in funding the idea.

Later, Musk wrote the code for a mapping project which essentially enabled him to combine the two ideas. The company staff lived on-premises to cut down on costs.

Anyway, Zip2 eventually received some much-needed investment in 1996. In an unbelievable turn of events, Elon Musk was ousted as the CEO of the company and given a much smaller role. However, he did manage to help remove the CEO who came after him, Richard Sorkin, when he did not agree with his vision or principles for the company.

After considerable success, the entrepreneur decided to move on and work on a brand-new concept that would be the beginning of what we now know as PayPal.

What Startups and Entrepreneurs Can Learn from this Failure:

Elon Musk has remained determined throughout his career in spite of the knock-backs. When faced with obstacles, he never quit and always held on to his beliefs or started his own projects at the very least. Either way, his resilience and unwavering belief are a large part of the reason why Elon Musk is so successful to this day.

2. Paypal was Initially Voted ‘the Worst Business Concept of the Year’ 

Believe it or not, PayPal was voted the worst business idea of the year in 1999 when it was released as security software for the PalmPilot and other handheld devices. However, Musk and co-founder Max Levchin started to focus on creating an online wallet that started to gain traction.

In fact, when users began emailing the company, it was clear that this wallet was being used to facilitate eBay auctions. So they decided to scrap the original idea and proceeded with an electronic wallet. Eventually, PayPal got funding to develop this concept and in 2002 the company went public.

What Startups and Entrepreneurs Can Learn from this Failure:

Most startups fail because they fail to recognize the pain points of their target market. In other words, they pursue ideas and concepts that were doomed to fail before they even began.

Elon Musk has always adjusted when necessary and sought to create a product that provides a clear solution to the end-user. It sounds straightforward of course. Even so, too many startups allow their obsession with a particular product idea to blind them from the truth about the market.

3. Tesla was Failing Hard Before It Became Profitable

Many experts in the auto industry were very vocal about their disdain for Tesla when it first arrived on the scene. According to these individuals, the electric car was a non-starter and was sure to fail.

In 2008, it looked likely that these Market Stock Predictions would come true as Tesla stock stood on the brink of collapse due to insufficient finances. Musk was in the midst of producing the Model S at the time. Incredibly, he decided to go bankrupt and used his personal wealth to keep the company going.

This wealth consisted of the money ($35 million) he earned from the sale of PayPal. Just two years later, Elon was officially broke. Thankfully, personal loans from friends enabled the entrepreneur to survive. After a short period, Tesla became uber profitable. During this time, Musk and his staff also put in several shifts and resorted to sleeping on the factory floor.

What Startups and Entrepreneurs Can Learn from this Failure:

Tesla is now one of the most successful producers of electric cars. However, none of this would exist without the sheer perseverance that Musk has demonstrated. What’s more, it was his belief that enabled this in the first place. This really suggests that working on a personal passion is arguably the most powerful driving force that any business can obtain.

4. Everyone Expected SpaceX to Fail

It took a whopping sixteen months for SpaceX to prove that it was possible to land a rocket on one of the recovery drone ships. It’s true, the first attempt was rather successful with the accuracy of this rocket shocking most experts. Nevertheless, progress was slow and many still doubted the legitimacy of the company.

However, in mid-2016, SpaceX successfully landed three of these rockets in succession. However, disaster struck that same year when they tried to replicate this achievement four times instead of three. It was a huge blow for Musk and SpaceX with the media taking quite a cut-throat approach to the story.

While it was fully expected that SpaceX would slow down proceedings, Musk insisted that they must move forward and make good use of the important data that was gathered during this failure. In a recent interview, he also stated that space exploration is a very dangerous business. He emphasized that ‘sending people to Mars’ will always be associated with fatal risks. Musk and his team have prepared for these risks and have announced plans for the test launch of Starship on April 10 and 11 2023.

What Startups and Entrepreneurs Can Learn from this Failure:

Through this immense failure at Space X, we can see that Elon Musk is a maverick and nonconformist. In other words, he takes an independent stance apart from his peers and thinks independently to produce the necessary results for success.

5. Musk’s Complicated Personal Life and Finances 

We cannot ignore the fact that Musk is a controversial character. He has experienced some very adverse situations in his personal life. After all, he went through a very public and long divorce process with his previous wife. He stated that this period was consumed by deep depression.

As if that wasn’t enough when the 2008 recession depleted the profitability of SpaceX and Tesla, Musk was almost broke again. In fact, he was considering axing one of these two companies.

In the end, Musk decided to split any remaining funds between the two companies. Later that year, he received word that NASA was committing $6 billion to SpaceX. Thankfully, both companies survived the storm, and Elon even married again just a few years later.

In 2022, the Tesla share price plummeted and – as a result – Musk lost the title of the richest man in the world to Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. However, Musk seems to have taken this in his stride and is enjoying his current status as the most-followed person on Twitter, even surpassing Barack Obama.

What Startups and Entrepreneurs Can Learn from this Failure:

Whatever you think about Elon Musk, he continues to demonstrate a relentless will to succeed. In spite of the uncertainty and doubt, he makes bold decisions and commits to them fully, right to the very end.

6. Controversial purchase of Twitter

In 2022, Musk found himself in the midst of a deal gone sour when he went back on his intention to purchase Twitter. To put this more plainly, this was more than mere intention. He had actually signed on the dotted line for the $44 billion purchase when he changed his mind, stating that the number of spam accounts on Twitter was much higher than Twitter had reported.

When Musk hit the brakes on this deal, it caused a storm, with a lot of heated debate around the deal among the general public. As if people arguing about this almost-purchase wasn’t bad enough, Musk and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal had it out on Twitter in a debate that caught the attention of many when the two began hurling tweets and emojis at each other.

Musk’s cold feet resulted in the Tesla share price plummeting even further. Twitter share prices were also on a downward spiral shortly after the announcement that Musk was backing out of the deal. This was followed soon after by a Twitter lawsuit that threatened Musk’s brand reputation even further. Eventually, Musk made another U-turn and agreed to make the purchase official on grounds that Twitter dropped the lawsuit.

So far, his transition into life at Twitter has been rocky and plagued with questionable decisions, botched layoffs, and fleeing advertisers. Needless to say, with Tesla shareholders uncertain of his commitment to Tesla, the Tesla share price has continued its downhill trend.

The future of Twitter

Whether Musk will be able to turn things around at Twitter remains to be seen. However, by going through the purchase of Twitter, he saved himself the burden of going through a public trial – a challenge that anyone would be happy to avoid. Moreover, he also avoided having to pay a fine plus interest for backing out of a legal agreement.

What Startups and Entrepreneurs Can Learn from this Failure:

As an entrepreneur, going back on your word can do more than tarnish your reputation. Once people start to question your credibility, the reputation and value of your brand are also at stake. Customers are also less likely to keep buying from you once they start questioning whether or not they can trust you.

If you care about your personal reputation as well as that of your brand, it’s important to only make agreements that you’re confident you can honour. If you must, spend some more time weighing legal agreements so that once you sign on the dotted line your word is worth something.


It’s true, that despite his many failures, Elon Musk is not only a genius but also an incredibly motivated individual with a burning desire to succeed. His success in the face of adversity is such a testament to his character that we simply cannot imagine what the South African will do next!

One thing we cannot just gloss over is the media’s ability to run with your failures as an entrepreneur. They will run that news without any mercy – Musk’s failures are just a few examples. However, if you’re an upcoming entrepreneur, you shouldn’t let this hold you back, because the media will run with your successes too when you eventually make it.

How Pressfarm can help

For an entrepreneur, your brand management can determine your success or failure. At Pressfarm, we help companies define the right narrative in the media for their brand – either to improve their credibility or resolve a PR crisis. If you are an entrepreneur wondering how to improve your company’s publicity, get in touch with us. We can help you craft and distribute your press releases, develop compelling guest posts and design eye-catching media kits for your brand.

Learn why we are good at what we do from our customer success stories.